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LEARNING TO DRIVE: 3 ½ STARS. “a smooth ride, fuelled by the lead performances.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 1.23.05 PMThe are driving lessons in “Learning to Drive,” a new film starring Patricia Clarkson and Sir Ben Kingsley, but learning how to parallel park or merge into traffic isn’t the point of the story.

Clarkson is literary critic Wendy, a recent divorcee who hires Darwan (Kingsley) to teach her how to drive so she can travel to upstate New York to visit her daughter (Grace Gummer). Still stinging from the separation she learns to navigate Manhattan’s mean streets, as the unlikely pair form a bond, teaching one another about life and love.

“Learning to Drive” is a Prius hybrid, a well-meaning movie that isn’t as flashy as other contemporary models. It is, however, a smooth ride, fuelled by the lead performances. The lessons learned aren’t revelatory—“It doesn’t matter what is going on in your life out there,” says Darwan, “you must shut it out. When you are at the wheel of a car, that is all there is. Your life right now.”—but because the characters are so compelling the simple metaphors kick into gear.

Clarkson is a live wire, a fiery woman torn between a lust for life and the shattering realization that in the wake of the divorce her life is unalterably changed. Kingsley brings warmth, vulnerability and charm that nicely mirrors her heartbreak.

“Learning to Drive” is a touching movie that isn’t so much about the destination—frankly that part is a mild let down—but about the journey and the words. The pleasure of the film is taking the trip and listening in to these two professionals deliver them.

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